Series: Prized Possesion / Singers

Shehara Liyanage: Inheriting Memories

Like so many little girls, 10-year-old Shehara Liyanage was fascinated by her mother’s wardrobe. Shey longed to be properly grown up and inside that cupboard were all the props she needed to pretend she already was: outsize heels to totter around in, make-up to be inexpertly slathered on and beautiful sarees to wind around herself. “It was at that age that you want to be a bit of an adult,” Shey remembers. “You want to wear your mother’s clothes and carry her handbags.” It was on one of her forays that she first laid eyes on it – smooth and surprisingly heavy, the turtle shell jewellery box was obviously a treasure. “When I saw it I told her ‘Ammie, you just have to give this to me.’”

Despite any qualms she might have had Sharleen Liyanage decided to make a present of the valuable item to her youngest child. Though she kept very few things in it, Mrs. Liyanage had stored and handled the box with great care. Now she impressed upon her daughter the need to do the same. “I think the best thing ever was my mother believing I could look after it even at that age,” say Shey revealing that she was now in the possession of what amounted to a family heirloom. “It was passed down to me by my mum who was given it by her mother and I’m pretty sure that my mum’s mum’s mum had it with her too. So it’s a generational thing.”

The turtle shell jewellery box: A keepsake treasure from Shey’s mother

The first thing Shey did once she got the box to herself was go find Dimpi achchi (Dimpi is short for Dimples) to show off her new prized possession and assure her achchi that she would take good care of it. “She was thrilled for me,” says Shey, adding that her grandmother told her that a miniature version of the box was on display in the National Museum. But not everyone in the family greeted the news with the same enthusiasm. “I have two (elder) sisters of my own and they were like, ‘why does she get the box?’ Of course it was just for fun and they know how very sentimental I am.”

Shey, who is today well known both as one of the anchors of YES FM’s ‘Morning Show’ and an extraordinary soloist with the all-female choir ‘Soul Sounds,’ confesses to possessing a soft spot a mile wide. “I love collecting things because I’m very sentimental,” she says, explaining that she keeps the box stored safely in her ‘memory cupboard.’ Tacked all over the cupboard are notes and letters from the people she loves and souvenirs of the most memorable moments in her life and her mother’s box has a place of pride on its shelves.

Shey says she’s looking forward to eventually forging another link in the chain. She hopes to be able to make a gift of it to another little girl in her family, and says with their stellar record of producing female progeny, she doesn’t anticipate any difficulties. “You hope you have a girl so you can give it to her,” she says laughing, “because a boy would be a bit of a problem.”

Published in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka in June 3, 2012 as part of our Prized Possesion series. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix by M.A Pushpa Kumara

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